What I Learned from My Mother

May is a bittersweet month in my family. My son was born in May, 1983–that’s one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me.

But my maternal grandmother died in May. So did my mom. So did my wife. Every year as I help celebrate my son’s birthday, May 3, I think about those wonderful women who aren’t here to celebrate with us.

This Sunday, May 10, is Mother’s Day. My mother passed away on May 7, 2003, and was buried on May 9. I’ve had her on my mind all week. In fact, six years after she passed away, I have her on my mind most every day.

She wasn’t famous. She spent her adult life as a minister’s wife, teaching Sunday school lessons and helping with potluck dinners. Outside the home, she worked as a secretary at a high school. She never graduated from college.

But as she lingered near death, the hospital was flooded with people who wanted to say goodbye. They packed the hallways, scores and scores of them. After Mom was gone, hundreds of people poured into the funeral home to mourn. Several told me she’d been more of a mother to them than their own, biological mothers.

She was perhaps the most loving person I’ve ever known. And as a result, she was among the most loved by others.

Here are some life principles I learned from my watching my mom for 47 years:

• I now see that Christianity really is, as the New Testament tells us, the quiet person of the heart. My mother lived her faith; she didn’t beat anyone over the head with it. She didn’t have to. She was so full of gentleness, love and understanding that even strangers recognized she had a true relationship with God.

• I should talk less, listen more. When I was a kid, my mom and I would sit and talk for half an afternoon. It was only after she was gone that I realized I couldn’t recall a whole lot of what she’d said–because basically she’d tended to sit quietly and listen as I rattled on. Others told me much the same–she let them talk about their problems until they felt better. I realize now that having someone willing to hear what I said made me feel valued, and it also helped me work out my questions and dilemmas. I want now to listen to others.

• It’s not my place to judge. My mother liked the up-and-outers and she liked the down-and-outers. She didn’t always agree with what people did, but she seemed uncannily able to deal with them, respect them and, again, listen to them.

• I should maintain my sense of humor. Mom was one of the funnier people I’ve ever met. With one sideways glance, one twist of her face, she could lay me out in the floor laughing. Because of that, I always looked forward to being around her.

• I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. People who worked with her in the school system said that when the day was falling apart, when everybody else was ready to rip each others’ eyeballs out, my mom remained calm. “Here, have a piece of candy,” she’d say to a frantic teacher, student or guidance counselor. “It’s going to be OK.”

• I should remember that God is always doing something, even when it looks as if he isn’t. In churches, you sometimes go through dry spells spiritually, when the congregation isn’t growing or the Spirit doesn’t seem electrifying. When people would become bored or disgruntled, my mom always would say to me privately, “I don’t understand. They seem to think things are at a standstill. I see God moving every day.”

My mom touched more people more deeply than any 10 preachers I know all put together. Before I’m done on this earth, I hope to learn to become more like her.


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  1. said:

    Paul, What a lovely tribute to your mother. I’d like to be more like her, too.

    May 10, 2009

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